Last night’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of East Devon District Council saw a surprise defeat for the new administration. The first part of the Agenda concerned a number of changes to the constitution to tidy up loose ends and to enable the EGM to deal with more than one motion. The Opposition tabled a further amendment to the changes to the constitution to exclude cabinet members from sitting on either the planning or licencing committees. This was carried by 29 votes to 27. A couple of the Independent Progressive Group voted for this amendment. The new Council Chairman Dr Cathy Gardner, who has a casting vote in the event of a tied vote, chose not to exercise her personal vote and there were three absentees.
The grounds for excluding cabinet members from these committees concern potential conflicts of interest. Owl has already predicted that the Conservative Opposition would take renewed interest in scrutiny and it appears that extends to potential conflicts of interest as well. It was clear from the debate that attempts had been made over the past few days to find a compromise solution including calling in the Local Government Association to carry out a review of the governance of planning in EDDC (Owl thinks this is still likely to go ahead). There is no such bar in neighbouring local authorities. Legal restrictions only apply to the Leader and Cabinet members with responsibility over planning related matters such as strategic planning.
During the debate which lasted well over an hour Leader Cllr. Paul Arnott said he had a plan B in case the amendment was carried. (The Deputy Leader Cllr. Eileen Wragg had been nominated as Chair of Planning.)
The meeting concluded quite quickly after this by agreeing to the remaining issues: allocations of seats to committees and appointments etc. with the proviso that the Monitoring Officer would be delegated to agree the changes with Group Leaders necessitated by the amendment.
So we don’t yet know who will replace Cllr. Eileen Wragg as Chairman of Planning.